Tag Archives: Amy Leland

John Gilroy, ACE, on editing Roman J. Israel, Esq.

By Amy Leland

John Gilroy, ACE, comes from an impressive storytelling family. His father, Frank D. Gilroy, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, as well as a screenwriter and director for film and television. His older brother Tony is a screenwriter and director, known for films such as Michael Clayton and the Jason Bourne films. His fraternal twin Dan is also a screenwriter and director, whose work includes the film Nightcrawler. John’s editing credits include his brothers’ films Michael Clayton and Nightcrawler, as well as many others, including Warrior, Pacific Rim and Rogue One.

John Gilroy (Mike Windle/Getty Images)

While the Gilroy brothers have often worked together, they have all also made significant films independently. With a family filled with such storytelling talents, it is no surprise that John ended up where he is now, but it turns out his path wasn’t as predestined as one might think. I sat down with him to talk about that legacy, his path toward it, and his most recent editing project, Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film stars Denzel Washington, and yes, it was written and directed by twin brother Dan.

Did you want to be in this industry because it’s the family business?
It may be the opposite of that. My brothers and I grew up around the film industry because our dad’s in the business. He’s a writer/director. We didn’t live in Hollywood. We lived in upstate New York, but we were in orbit of all that throughout our childhood. I decided to go the other way. I actually thought, “You know what? I’ll be a lawyer.”

I majored in government at college, but by graduation I really didn’t want to go through another three years of law school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I worked as a bartender for a couple of years in New York, which was a lot of fun. Then I just started gravitating toward the film business. I really wanted to be a director, like everybody else. I looked around at how I could get my foot in the door. My father knew an editor, Rick Shane, who let me hang out in his cutting room between my bar shifts. I didn’t go to film school, so I picked up what I could there. Then I got into a cutting room on a job as an apprentice, and really just worked very hard and very steadily for a bunch of years. Finally I became an editor. My brothers became screenwriters. They wrote together early on, and then separately. But editing was my trajectory.

Do you remember having early heroes who were filmmakers, or did that come later?
When I was young I was “wowed” by the same films that a lot of people were: Lawrence of Arabia and The Godfather for instance. Many of the films I really loved were made by directors who had been film editors. I was a big fan of David Lean, Hal Ashby and Robert Wise. It’s sort of one of the logical reasons I gravitated to editing I guess — I thought this is a good way to get in, because some of my directing heroes started as film editors.

I think the movie that really made me think about editing early on was Slaughterhouse Five, which was edited by Dede Allen. It’s a great movie — a lot of nonlinear cross cutting. It must have been a lot of fun for her in the cutting room making that movie. But that was the first film I ever saw that I thought, “Ahhh, isn’t it interesting how it’s put together.” I really hadn’t thought about how a movie was put together before that; it just seemed like an invisible process.

I teach editing classes, and one of the things I tell my students is that you have to accept that if you do your job well, people shouldn’t see it. So it’s nice that occasionally it’s okay to see the editing and be impressed by that. That’s a very tough thing to do. I felt that way about Whiplash. When I saw it, I thought, “I’m seeing the editing, and that’s a good thing because it’s really fascinating how this was put together.” That is unusual.

Every once in a while, there is a movie like that. I cut a movie years ago called Narc, where the editing was kind of up in your face like that. Every movie tells you what to do, but you’re right, usually it’s an absolutely invisible and seamless experience. You shouldn’t be thinking about it at all, if it goes right.

You’ve worked a lot with family. In fact, your brother Dan — with whom you did Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel, Esq. — is your twin. Does that make that working collaboration easier? Does it make it harder? How does it affect that process?
It makes it easier for sure. We’ve all worked with many other people, independent of each other but working with Danny or Tony is easier because there’s a shorthand. You develop a shorthand with a director if you work with them on more than one picture no matter who it is. I guess it’s even stronger if it’s your brother, and then maybe even more if he’s your twin.

We’re very different sorts of people, however…. we’re fraternal twins. You wouldn’t even know we were brothers to look at us, but we definitely have a similar sensibility. So in terms of pace and what’s right and what’s wrong, that kind of thing, we’re pretty much in lock step. Our process moves very quickly. The decision-making is fluid because we’re not debating very much. We’re both looking at our movie in the same way.

For the whole thing to be a success, it’s very important for an editor to be able to climb into a director’s brain and to sync up with them on some level. If there’s some sort of weird tug-of-war going on, it’s never going to happen… You’re not going to find the magic.

How did this particular project come about? Were you involved from the beginning?
Romans J. Israel, Esq. sprang from the fertile imagination of my brother Dan, who is turning out some really interesting spec scripts these days. He wrote it for Denzel Washington, and then Denzel said yes. It’s a brilliant script, and it quickly attracted a lot of people. We were fortunate to have the same production team we had on Nightcrawler. Robert Elswit shooting and Kevin Kavanaugh doing production design, James Howard doing the music, and then me editing of course, so there’s a lot of experience there. Dan has been wise enough to surround himself with a lot of talent. And he’s also a great boss. He is everybody’s compass in finding the movie, but he’s very open to ideas, and the process is pleasant, highly creative and fun. He makes it that way.

Robert Elswit worked with you and Dan on this one and Nightcrawler. He’s such an amazing cinematographer. When you’re talking about the guy who takes Paul Thomas Anderson’s visions and brings them to life, this is clearly somebody with an incredibly strong sense of the visual. What was the collaborative process like for the three of you?
I have an opinion about everything (laughs), but I try to step back in the pre-production process. I step back and let Robert and Kevin and Dan do their thing, and I try not to be part of that because I’m going to have a big say later on. So I’m sort of circling that pre-production process, just looking in, happy to answer any questions, look at anything. It’s fine. I’ll do that.

Once we start shooting, though, my cutting room becomes command central, and I’m building the movie. That’s me taking what’s been shot and looking ahead to see what they’re doing. But I’m trying to put the movie together as quickly as possible. And things are occurring to me, things that I might need. If I say, “Could I get something, I need something quickly,” it’s attended to in the course of the shooting. I just kind of build the movie from the very beginning as quickly as possible, and finding the truth in every scene. That’s what I’m thinking about.

So you are cutting scenes as the production is going on. Are you on set?
I’ll be on set the very first day to say, “Hey, how are you doing?” Then they probably won’t see me very much. Occasionally I’ll come out if their shooting something I’ve asked for, but you don’t see me much on set.

Let’s talk about the technical aspect a little bit. What did they shoot on?
Robert Elswit is a big advocate of film and we actually were able to shoot film for all of the day stuff. Film is not as forgiving at night, so we shot on an Arri Alexa for our night scenes.

What about your edit process? What’s your set up for your edits?
I’m as technical as I need to be. I’m actually one of the last guys that started cutting on a Moviola, like a million years ago. So that’s where I learned how to cut. I had a very good team. Richard Molina was my first assistant and Corey Seeholzer was my Second. It was a small, experienced crew. In terms of the workflow in the room, I tend to delegate that to my First. Basically, the way I work is my First runs the room.

If my first assistant is running the room, I can be focused on my Avid and I thinking creatively about the movie all of the time. There are many technical aspects to our workflow that I only sort of look at peripherally. I obviously have a deep knowledge of how our cutting room operates, but I couldn’t do Richard’s job. It’s too technical for me. I’m doing the same thing that I’ve always done. I’m getting my dailies, and climbing into the movie — thinking about the story — what is the story and where is the truth?

Sound seems so important to this story. His constant use of headphones, his devotion to his iPod, his reaction to the construction next door to him, and especially the way he was experiencing sound to show his emotional state. The couple of times where, in moments of anxiety, sound would drop out. How much of that was worked out in the edit, and how much was left for the sound mix?
In terms of knowing where certain sound design elements are going to happen, again, the movie is telling us what to do. Margit Pfeiffer, our sound supervisor, assembled a really great team. Andy Koyama and Martyn Zub mixed the film. Martyn and Ann Scibelli were our sound designers and Del Spiva was our music editor. Many of us had worked on Nightcrawler and again, there was a shorthand between us… a collaboration which made it easy for the sound of our film to evolve very quickly.

I work hard to make my first pass of a film feel like a third or fourth pass, and the sound has a lot to do with that. That’s how you can make a crazy deadline like what we were shooting for, which was a little (laughs) ambitious. Danny started shooting in April and wasn’t really done until early June. Then he was like, “Hey, what about the Toronto Film Festival?” And I was like, “Okay (laughs some more).”

So one and a half months?
Yeah. We ran for it, and we made it. After the Toronto Film Festival, we saw some ways to make the movie even better and more streamlined, and we acted on that. That’s the version that’s in the theaters now.

What do you look for in an assistant editor?
It’s a complex skill set. They have to be very knowledgeable technically to offset my ignorance on some level. There’s a lot of temp VFX work that we do in the room, wherever we can — filling in green screens and that sort of thing. The assistants have to be quite knowledgeable with VFX tools in the Avid and/or After Effects.

I also mentioned that I do a lot of sound work, but when I’m really working hard on my cut of the film, I delegate a lot of the sound work to them so they must have a deep background in sound and sound design. Those are two important skills they need to have —that and being able to keep the room running smoothly.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started?
Whatever I know now that I’d like to pass on to my young self took thousands of hours to come by, and I’m not sure I could articulate it, but I do think it is harder to become an editor today. It’s a good news/bad news thing… the good news is that you can make media and edit on your phone if you want to — the tools are available. You could start being an editor instantly or at least start practicing. It wasn’t like that when I was young. There was film, and it was expensive, and you had to learn a lot and wait much longer before you got an opportunity.

But these days, an assistant’s job is even further removed from what an editor does. They need to absorb a lot more technical knowledge to work in a cutting room. When I was an assistant, I was often working in a cutting room with the editor shoulder to shoulder, handing him his next shot. You learn a lot by being close in on the process. With computers, editing is a much more solitary endeavor.

Editorial is a ladder. It’s a transition from apprentice to an assistant, and then assistant to editor. From assistant to editor, you’re actually doing two entirely different jobs. It’s always been that way but the chasm seems greater to me now, because assistants need to know more to do their jobs.

Director Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington on set.

Is there anything else about Roman J. Israel, Esq. that you would like people to know?
In some ways, I think this is one of the most important films that I’ve ever worked on. I think it’s an emotional and brainy piece of filmmaking, in terms of Danny’s story and what Denzel brought to the character. I’m very proud of it. It also portrays our criminal justice system accurately, which might be eye opening for some people.

It was also really interesting and refreshing to actually to see a movie where the main conflict was somebody simply trying to hold onto their morals. It’s almost rare now that that’s something to strive for.

I know… It’s kind of a throwback. It has a ‘70s feel to it, and Roman is also sort of a time capsule throwback himself. The movie works, I think, because Denzel is fascinating to watch, and at the end of his journey, he is ultimately a hero. It was a lot of fun working with Denzel too. He’s a great filmmaker himself, and was extremely helpful to Dan and I in the cutting room. We had a lot of fun together.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Apple updates FCPX, adds shared libraries, more

By Amy Leland

There exists within the post world a deep schism. On one side are those who use Final Cut Pro X, appreciate it for what it is, and want to know more about it. On the other side are those who see it as “iMovie Pro” and disdain all discussion on the topic. Full disclosure: I have always fallen firmly in the first camp.

When FCPX was first released in June of 2011, besides being a professional editor, I was also an Apple Certified Trainer (in FCP, Motion and Color), and out of necessity figured out this new product as quickly as possible to meet the demand of those wanting to know more. Along the way, I positioned it in my own work as my go-to tool for any of my independent freelance projects, and most recently for the feature documentary that I am directing and editing. I recognize that it isn’t the right tool for all editing jobs. But sometimes it is the best tool for an editing job.

interface-copyLast week I had the opportunity to attend a demo of the new FCPX 10.3. For those who are using it and others who have an open mind, there are some exciting new features and updates. I don’t think anything I say will sway the minds of those who decided long ago this product isn’t for professional editors and isn’t worth their time. And for those whose hesitation was, it’s too different, well it’s still different. It’s just a new different.

Audio
The thing that really stuck out to me was the streamlining of how audio works. There are both interface and under-the-covers changes to audio mixing and organization. The big news is the use of Roles, and how that applies to audio. FCPX introduced the idea of Roles in the very first update to the app just a few months after the initial release. Roles allowed for identifying types of audio in a way that would aid in multichannel exports and stems. But this version is the first to fully take advantage of them for streamlining the editing process.

There is now more comprehensive support for doing things like color-coding clips based on Roles for visual cues in the timeline. There is also a new concept called “audio lanes.” This is still the world of the magnetic timeline. I am a fan of the magnetic timeline, and that functionality is the biggest reason why my workflow in FCPX is typically far faster than it is in any other app. But it has always been a bit frustrating to get the audio beneath the magnetic timeline to make sense visually. Now, with audio lanes, audio in different roles can be displayed in distinct visual troughs (NOT tracks) that make it far easier to look at the timeline and see exactly what is there. With a single click, lanes can be turned off and on. The flexibility for display in different stages of the work process is fantastic.

The interface as a whole has also undergone the biggest overhaul it has had since the initial release. It looks, quite simply, cleaner. The color scheme has been flattened and darkened to allow the video content to take focus. Some onscreen controls have been moved to places that, upon reflection, do make more sense. Though having used the product for five years, I expect to have some moments of feeling a little disoriented while I get used to the changes. I look forward to seeing how the adjustments further streamline the process.

Motion
One change I am particularly excited about might seem like a small thing, but it will save me one of the biggest headaches I tend to experience in my FCPX work. I’m a big fan of custom Motion content. I create my own custom titles, transitions and effects for almost every project I do. I also use Motion publishing to bring effects specific to Motion into the FCPX interface. The only problem is that, up until now, all of that custom content lived in the Movies folder of the user library in the OS. There was no option to customize that location or store things elsewhere. More times than I can count, I would move a project from one hard drive to another, or consolidate a project to a portable drive to work on while traveling, and discover I’d left my custom Motion content behind. Those offline media icons made me nuts.

In 10.3, there is now a user preference for storing those custom Motion projects inside of an FCPX library. If the Motion project is specific to a particular FCPX project, I can store it in that project’s library. For things I have created to be more universal, I can now create a central library that can travel with any of the other work I’m doing. It’s a small change, but a really important one.

More
Many of the other changes, while relatively small details, are important ones. After years of user requests, we finally have selective “Remove Attributes.” (FINALLY!) FCPX will now also natively accept MXF-wrapped ProRes files. For those of us who go back and forth between editing systems, and do a lot of work in Avid, this will be a real time saver.

There is also a new effect in the FCPX effect library called “Flow,” a transition similar to the Fluid Morph in Avid or the Morph Cut in Premiere. I have to say, as I often experience with effects in FCPX and Motion, it just works…better. Unlike Avid where I often have to finesse the frame count to get it to work right, and then render before playback, this just drops in and works. I love it.

Shared Libraries
And finally, for those whose biggest hang-up about FCPX is shared media/project use, there is now support for shared libraries on SMB 3-compatible storage systems. There is also a new white paper out from Apple about managing the media and libraries that includes workflows for a shared storage environment. This is an aspect of the update I haven’t had the time to test fully myself. But the workflow outline in the white paper makes sense. It isn’t a fully shared work environment like opening bins from other projects in Avid. It seems more analogous to the Media Browser in Premiere, but this seems to have the potential to open up the idea of collaboration much better than before, and is something that I find pretty exciting. The “In Action” section of the FCPX website profiles a commercial post house in London called Trim Editing that is using this workflow. I imagine this won’t be enough to convince all of the skeptics. But it definitely feels like a big step in the right direction, and I look forward to working this way myself.

Summing Up
This is definitely a major update to an editing tool that was already more robust than it often gets credit for being. Those who are already on board should see a lot of good things here to reward their continued usage. Best of all, by releasing this major update as 10.3, and not as a new version 11, this update is a free one for anyone who already owns the app. That may be the best news of all.


Amy Leland is a filmmaker and editor in Brooklyn, New York, whose editing credits include Bravo, NFL Network and CBS Sports Network. She can be found on Twitter @amy_leland and on Instagram @la_directora.